By Mugove Tafirenyika
HARARE – The Daily News is facing a fresh State onslaught following false claims by Zimbabwe’s controversial First Lady Grace Mugabe late last year that former Vice President Joice Mujuru owns a 10 percent stake in the newspaper.
Police have now obtained a court order, signed by Harare Provincial Magistrate Vakayi Douglas Chikwekwe on December 18, 2014, authorising them to search and seize key documents pertaining to the ownership of the newspaper’s parent company Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe (ANZ).
Two police officers from the CID law and order section stormed the company’s Harare offices on Tuesday, armed with the warrant of seizure.
One of the police details identified himself only as Superintendent Viera, while his colleague flatly refused to do so.
Grace first made the outrageous claim that Mujuru had bought a 10 percent shareholding in the country’s leading newspaper, the Daily News, while addressing one of her controversial “Meet the People” rallies at her vast Mazowe business hub in October last year.
Addressing mainly war collaborators and youths, she accused Zimbabwe’s top-selling daily — that was violently and unjustly shut down by her husband’s government in September 2003, and which only returned to the news stalls in late March 2011 — of publishing negative stories about her in the alleged service of Mujuru.
“Don’t be surprised to see negative stories of me every day. She (Mujuru) bought 10 percent of Daily News. Daily News yakatengwa ndosaka muchiona vachingonyora nezvangu (She bought the Daily News that’s why they criticise me),” she said basely without batting an eyelid.
A week earlier, the quarrelsome and increasingly influential First Lady brazenly incited Zanu PF supporters against journalists from the newspaper at another rally held in Marondera, alleging that the country’s number one media brand was being used by factional leaders to wage a war against her.
Commenting light-heartedly at the time on Grace’s utterances, ANZ group editor Stanley Gama said he could only thank the First Lady for working so hard to market the popular daily “with such admirable zeal”.
“It is good to see that Mrs Mugabe continues to confirm very openly the fact that she, her husband and her family are avid readers of our paper, which is understandable given that hundreds of thousands of other Zimbabweans have long decided that our winning, credible journalism is the best on the market,” he said.
“While she is plainly wrong about Mrs Mujuru having shares in the Daily News, I must also, nevertheless, thank the First Lady for continuing to market our inimitable paper with such admirable zeal, particularly today where she did this without inciting violence against our staff,” Gama said.
But there was neither humour nor a festive spirit in the conduct of the two police officers who stormed the newspaper’s offices this week.
The court order that they carried and which took a surprisingly long two weeks to effect, was given by Chikwekwe in terms of section 54(2)(b) of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act.
It directed the police to search for details of ANZ’s shareholders — information that is easily obtainable from the Registrar of Companies and from media regulation authorities.
Even more surprising, the warrant of seizure itself that they brought to the Daily News’s offices suggested that they already had this information anyway, rendering their mission almost pointless.
Part of the warrant directed that ANZ directors “provide copies of list and details (particulars) of shareholders pertaining to the current allotment for ANZ and any other documents in relation to the said shareholder allotment”.
It further suggested, rather revealingly, that “an offence of criminal abuse of office as defined in section 174 of the Criminal law codification and Reform Act has been committed” — an allegation that Mujuru’s Zanu PF enemies have consistently directed at her.
However, the warrant did not identify who the actual accused was, and was also silent on the nature and details of the alleged offence, just as it did not say where the offence was committed as well as the supposed beneficiary of the abuse.
Alec Muchadehama, the ANZ’s lawyer, said yesterday that the police details who visited the Daily News had flatly refused to shed light on the identity of not just the accused, but also the complainant.
“We are considering challenging the validity of the warrant,” he said.
Although he had availed to authorities on Wednesday the “relatively insignificant” information that they wanted, Muchadehama had still objected to the police regarding the fact that the warrant of search and seizure did not identify anyone as the accused, “which essentially made it irregular and incapable of being executed”.
Meanwhile, lickspittle State media had already reported earlier this week that police were investigating “high-profile corruption cases” involving firms linked to Mujuru and had already allegedly “retrieved vital documents” that could form the core of the probe.
“Sources said that much headway had been made in the last few days, but would not shed more light for fear of jeopardising the investigations.
“We are still in the process of searching the companies and we have found some of the evidence we need. We have not yet questioned her (Mujuru) but we will definitely do so,” a source allegedly told The Herald.
The paper also reported that it had it “on good authority” that findings had since been presented to senior officers at Police General Headquarters in Harare.
“The matter is being handled as a sensitive issue and senior police officers are being briefed on a daily basis on the latest developments,” it said.
The team probing targeted companies was allegedly led by Chief Superintendent Luckson Mukazhi, who is said to have visited some of the companies to carry out the investigations.
This followed the issuance of warrants by the courts to search companies allegedly linked to Mujuru and her other assets after she was fired from Government for behaviour inconsistent with the discharge of her duties as a public official.
The Daily News only came back to the market just over three years ago after it was unjustly shut down in 2003 by President Robert Mugabe’s government for “telling it like it is” as its motto goes.
The newspaper and its staff have been under incessant threats and pressure from Zanu PF bigwigs since it came back, including facing hundreds of millions of American dollars in vexatious lawsuits, 99 of which never even reach the courts.
Until Mugabe’s and Zanu PF’s contested electoral victories last year, the newspaper was banned from circulating in certain parts of the country, with its editorial staff often still barred from covering some State functions.
Zanu PF apparatchiks have also routinely tried, unsuccessfully, to allege falsely that the newspaper is a beneficiary of Western donor funding.
A company spokesman said yesterday that they were watching events very closely.
“It is obviously of concern that ANZ is once again being put under unnecessary and unjust pressure by some in positions of power, when we should all be working together to strengthen the country’s nascent democracy and the well-being of its people.
“We are, however, confident that common sense will prevail soon, particularly seeing that the information that law enforcement agents say they are looking for is available publicly. Daily News